The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER presents….“A brief history of choking.”

April 3, 2012
Share this story:

Life is amazing.   I wudda thought that hell would freeze over and that the Republican presidential candidates would settle their differences before I would ever write a column about women’s golf.

     But tireless hunter-gatherer of the various truths of the Human Condition that I am, if the LPGA Tour is where I must go to find those truths, that’s where I must go.image001

     Last week the LPGA held their annual Nabisco Championship, right down the road in Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs.   The “Kraft Nabisco”.   To you & I that sounds a lot like a tasty wedge of cheese on a cracker, but to the wide wide wonderful world of women’s golf it sounds like what it actually is, namely its first grand slam “major” championship of the year.

On the final day of the tournament, Sunday, the leaderboard was crowded, as usual, with Koreans.   The Koreans are dominating women’s golf these days the way Kenyans used to dominate long-distance running, or the way Americans used to totally dominate basketball.   It came down to this: On the 18th and final hole, a nervous 23-year-old girl from South Korea named I.K. Kim stood over a 1-foot-long putt to win her 1st major title.   A couple seconds away from the greatest moment of her young life, by far, and all she had to do was make a 1-foot putt that any decent blind golfer could make 90% of the time.   A kick-in, 1-foot putt; the ultimate “gimme”.   This was not a testy 4-footer, or a twisting 3-footer, or even a knee-knockin’ 2-footer.   This was 1 foot.   1 as in o-n-e.    Twelve inches to glory, give or take an inch.   One foot.   One foot.   One lousy foot.

     She missed it.

     The biggest choke since Ross said Rachel instead of Emily….

     DIdja ever choke?   Did you yourself ever stand on the precipice of greatness, and suddenly feel your whole brain & body continuum wilt and fall apart beneath you, like frosted flakes sitting too long in a milky bowl?   Standing so close to something so great that you could close your eyes and imagine that it was happening to somebody else, because nothing that good ever happens to you???

     I myself (I love saying I myself and you yourself) have choked many times in many ways, but right now I’m thinking about one particular incident that mirrors, somewhat, what poor I.K. Kim must have gone through.   Many decades ago I was on a game show, it was a general knowledge quiz show called “Split Second”, and I was driving and slashing my way to victory.   Answer one more question and I would be the champion, with a chance to try to win a brand-new car by turning the ignition and having it start.   It was a really big deal for an 18-year-old boy.   Unfortunately, I knew it.   And speaking of 18, they told me I was the youngest contestant ever to appear on that show; 18 years & two months.   Even more pressure.   And worse yet, all that pressure was twice what it might otherwise have been, because my own older brother actually did win a car, on this very show, the previous year, and no little brother wants to suffer in comparison to his older brother, even if he is older and, at 21, far more seasoned than the callow youth I was that day….

     Anyway, without dwelling on the details long enough to make me want to kill myself all over again, I answered the final question “Lorna Luft, Liza Minnelli!”, whereas if I had composed myself for one more lousy friggin’ second before buzzing in I would have understood the question sufficiently well enough to correctly answer “Lorna Luft, Judy Garland”, and would have won.   But I didn’t.   I choked.

     Who knows what similar terrors rippled through poor 23-year-old Ms. Kim on Sunday, which caused her to so completely fall apart.   One can only surmise.   But I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of her ball circling the entire cup before dribbling right back and so very tauntingly towards her, and her then reflexively raising her hand and covering her face, as she turned away from the sight of her ghastly gaffe, her eyes searching the gallery for answers, seeking an absolution that will never come.   It was awful.

     Doug Sanders blew a three-foot putt on the 18th hole at St. Andrews to lose the 1970 Open Championship to Jack Nicklaus.   Scott Hoch (Hoch as in rhymes with choke) gagged a two-footer to lose the 1989 Masters to Nick Faldo in a playoff.   Those are the two most famous blown short putts in golf history.   But the holocaust of last week tops them all in the most basic, mathematical way.   It will no doubt last all the way through Human history, even if they play golf for another two hundred years before we all finally blow each other up, as the shortest blown putt on the final hole to ever lose a major championship.   One foot.   Heavens to Murgatroid….

     I hope I.K. comes out of this O.K.   I hope to God she wins a major someday.   Sanders and Hoch never did.   Rather than being remembered as a terrific golfer (which he was), Sanders was known mainly as “the Peacock of the Fairways” for his fancy, flamboyant wardrobe.   As for Hoch, “Hoch the Choke” has become a permanent part of the lexicon of golf.   Neither man ever won a major championship before their respective gaffes, or came close after.   At least she has time on her side.

     Either way, I.K. has instantly become my favorite player on the LPGA Tour.   Wow.   Never thought I’d ever be saying something like that….a rooting interest in women’s golf?  

     I think I just lost my Man Card.

meet….The Sports Philosopher!image002

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered literary savant, and a big fan of LPGA golfer I.K. Kim.   Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.   His columns on very old and very underappreciated movies can be found by clicking Arts & Entertainment, then clicking ’Upon Further Review’.   Brad has also written 4 fine novels* and over 20 short-stories.   

*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, of triumph, and of utter despair, entitled WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for that title on,, or   And then order it.   And then READ it.   And then tell everyone about it.   And then read it again.   He thanks you.     






Leave a Reply